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The Moment: Emma Macdonald

Ginger Gorman

If you’ve ever met 44-year-old Emma Macdonald, you’ll know she never does anything by halves. Emma is a double Walkley-award winning journalist. And somehow, after 23 years on the beat, she’s still deeply passionate about her craft.

“It is a privilege to enter people’s lives, tell their stories and hopefully sometimes affect change for the better,” she says. “Work comes home with me constantly, which is a sad reality of the nature of journalism.

“I find it hard to switch off and suffer heart-palpitations if separated from my phone for more than a five-minute stretch,” she says, wryly adding: “It gives me no joy to actually admit that fact.”

When she’s not working, Emma spends time being a mum to Thomas, 10, and Imogen, 6.

“I cook, clean, ferry about and generally dote on my children,” she says.

For many of us, that would be a full plate. But not Emma.

Six years ago, when she had just given birth to Imogen, Emma’s world changed – just not in the way you might imagine. Listen to our podcast, or read on, to find out how.

Like all brand new mums, Emma remembers “being in a fog and a haze of exhaustion.”

Then she got a visit from her obstetrician, Professor Steve Robson, who “had helped me deliver this beautiful little bundle.”

Steve struck up a conversation with Emma about maternal health.

“He had just read a TIME magazine article in which human rights photographer Lynsey Addario had chronicled the death of a young mother of twins in Sierra Leone.

“This woman, Mamma Seesay, bled to death while trying to deliver the second baby,” Emma recalls.

“This is a country where one in 17 women giving birth will die,” she continues.

“Steve said she could have been saved with basic interventions. He wondered why people spent so much money sending flowers to mothers [in developed countries] when they had babies in hospital, when, in the developing world, one woman dies in childbirth every two minutes.”

Emma stops our conversation to point out that since we started talking, a mother has died; it’s shocking to think about.

Once Emma read the TIME article herself and saw the heart-wrenching photos, she “cried bucket loads.”

“It tore me apart to look down at my own baby, who was completely dependent on me for everything, and imagine her life if I had not made it through the birth.

“The statistics for survival of babies who lose their mothers at birth are truly harrowing.

“I couldn’t sleep, I was possessed by the idea of doing something [to help],” Emma says.

Not long afterwards, the idea hit Emma like a thunderbolt: “I remember one night, during one of those night feeds. It just came to me in a flash – to Send Hope, Not Flowers.”

Indeed, this became the name of the charity Emma co-founded with Professor Robson with the aim of helping mothers survive childbirth in the developing world.

Emma says people seemed to understand and connect with the problem immediately.

“Rather than spending $50 -$100 sending flowers to hospital, you jump online, make a donation, we send out a card [and] it explains that: ‘In honor of this newborn, a donation has been made to help save the life of another mother’,” Emma explains.

“We choose projects which are long-term, sustainable and empowering for women, such as training midwives and birth attendants or supplying basic supplies to assist with birth,” Emma says.

Send Hope has received support from surprising quarters, including the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and US supermodel Christy Turlington Burns (who runs her own maternal health charity, Every Mother Counts).

Since the charity kicked off in 2010, Emma has been profoundly affected by witnessing the positive maternal health outcomes that have directly flowed from Send Hope’s work.

“A mother dying in childbirth, I find it hard to even talk about without getting choked up,” Emma says, “but you can do something.”

“We get donations big and small, but the fact that someone has taken the time to send us some money because they understand the problem and they want to contribute in some way to helping fix it, never ceases to elate me.

“People are innately good,” she says.

Find more episodes of The Moment here. This is the last episode of this series, but stay tuned for more exciting projects, coming soon!

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Ginger Gorman

Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with some of the most interesting and marginalised people in our community. Ginger works hard to translate those untold stories into powerful and insightful journalism. She regularly writes stories, makes radio and TV for media outlets such as: news.com.au, Fairfax online, The Guardian, The Big Smoke, HerCanberra and the ABC. You can follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerGorman. More about the Author

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